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Jun 25 2013

Another reason to hope there isn’t an afterlife

An Egyptian statuette in a museum in Manchester was said to be actually moving on its own — so the museum installed a time-lapse camera and discovered that it actually did rotate slowly.

I looked at that and thought that obviously it was vibrations from the traffic that was causing it to wobble and gradually shift, but no, a representative from the museum had a different explanation.

Who’s to say that the spirit of this individual hasn’t re-entered this statue, and that’s what’s causing it to move?

Oh, what a nightmare! That’s a horrifying explanation! So if someone makes a little figurine of me, thousands of years from now my frustrated, impotent spirit will be straining to make it wiggle, and the best I’ll be able to do is an imperceptible, slow twist that requires some technology to detect? We’re going to spend eternity trapped in locked-in syndrome?

And what about all the dead people who don’t have magic enchanted representations of themselves to play with?

Alternatively, I suppose that babbling person could just be full of shit.

74 comments

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  1. 1
    Rossignol

    I guess ghosts can only move stuff when the lights are on? Horror movies have led me to believe otherwise.

  2. 2
    grumpyoldfart

    Who’s to say that the spirit of this individual hasn’t re-entered this statue, and that’s what’s causing it to move?

    Me! I’m the one who can say “the spirit of the of the individual hasn’t re-entered this statue.” Trust me. I’ve never been wrong.

  3. 3
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    [link] … an Egyptian curse.

    Campbell Price obviously understands his punters better than Brian Cox.

  4. 4
    Chengis Khan, The Cryofly

    Spirit? Is the rep. talking about alcohol? Hopefully this person does not give tours to visitors. I would not have minded if someone said that the statute is made of magnetite.

  5. 5
    Sili

    So if someone makes a little figurine of me, thousands of years from now my frustrated, impotent spirit will be straining to make it wiggle, and the best I’ll be able to do is an imperceptible, slow twist that requires some technology to detect? We’re going to spend eternity trapped in locked-in syndrome?

    Wasn’t that an episode of Buffy?

    If this is how it all ends (or begins), I hope Pat Robertson ka enters into a baby Jesus buttplug.

  6. 6
    overworldtheme

    Most likely, “ghosts” bring in more museum visitors than the vibration of passing cars.

  7. 7
    Azuma Hazuki

    This would be a good time to do some experiments. Attach a sensitive seismometer to the casing, put the statue on a rubber non-slip mat, etc etc.

  8. 8
    PZ Myers

    Science? Piffle. Aren’t you satisfied with the long-dead Egyptian haunting his own action figure story?

  9. 9
    Sastra

    It looks like the statue only moves during daylight hours. That suggests your traffic theory — or a ghost timid of the dark.

    Who’s to say that the spirit of this individual hasn’t re-entered this statue, and that’s what’s causing it to move?

    And who’s to say that the demons haven’t taken over the store, requiring an entire change in all museum representatives? And who’s to say that the store — nay, that Manchester itself — is not an illusion in a Matrix-addled brain in a vat? Who’s to say that anything at all is real, or exists, or isn’t the exact opposite of what it appears to be … like an institution dedicated to science being so incurious about cause and effect that its spokespeople forgo any further investigation and simply speculate idly on what might, or might not, be true for all we know (assuming we know nothing at all?) Who’s to say?

    Besides grumpyoldfart, I mean.

    Show of hands …

  10. 10
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    If you pay attention to the clock in the corner – on 2013/04/06 and 2013/04/07 (by the way, what clock starts with the goddamned year FIRST?!) the statue isn’t moving.

    Those were weekends.

  11. 11
    YOB - Ye Olde Blacksmith is a Spocktopus cuddler

    Azuma @ 7:
    But doing that will scare off the spirit and so prove that it was a spirit after all.

  12. 12
    Rich Woods

    It’s obviously a very confused Weeping Angel. It only moves when there are visitors in the museum.

  13. 13
    Anthony K

    Au contraire, mon profess—er, aire : the opportunity to haunt people is the only compelling reason to believe in an afterlife.

    “Some say you can still feel his presence in ol’ meeting room 27-B: a chair gently rocking to no wind, a barely perceptible ethereal glow said to be from the iPhone he’d use to surreptitiously read Pharyngula during particularly unengaging meetings, the coffee pot that occasionally and mysteriously overflows in the break room.

    Me? I don’t really believe it myself. But I don’t go by his cubicle at night. In fact, I don’t stay late at the office at all any more. I like to think it’s what he would have wanted.”

    I’m going to after-live the way I lived: making everyone else’s time a little more surreal. And what’s more surreal than a boring ghost?

  14. 14
    Jafafa Hots

    They should try it again only this time place a bottle of Aquafina right next to it in the video frame.
    I predict they will discover that there are water sprites moving the bottle.

  15. 15
    Jafafa Hots

    Ghosts are so behind the times anyway.
    You would have thought by now one would have decided to keep using their Facebook account to haunt their family.

  16. 16
    Anthony K

    We’re going to spend eternity trapped in locked-in syndrome?

    Wait: just noticed that it turns to face the wall and contentedly stare at nothing of interest. That’s the ghost of a cat if I ever saw one, and we all know how the Egyptians felt about cats.

    They should have someone stay in the museum overnight to see if it attacks their toes under the covers as they sleep.

  17. 17
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Jafafa Hots:

    Or Twitter, hashtag BOO has been trending lately.

  18. 18
    sadunlap

    Wow, a museum rep thinks that Night at the Museum was a documenatary?!?! Did this rep look like Ben Stiller, by any chance?

    Also, maybe I am biased, but how can somebody not know about electric football? It’s so annoying when the one with the little cotton thingy that supposed to be the ball just goes around in circles.

    Doh!

  19. 19
    PZ Myers

    the opportunity to haunt people is the only compelling reason to believe in an afterlife.

    Well, yes, if I could terrorize my enemies, or even just you commenters, for an eternity after my death, that would be kind of cool.

    But threatening to twiddle with your knick-knacks? Pathetic, man. Just pathetic.

  20. 20
    Larry

    #12

    It’s obviously a very confused Weeping Angel

    Quite. Go ahead and blink all you want around this one.

  21. 21
    kreativekaos

    Lil’ spirits inside pushin” that lil’ dude (or dudette) around on the table? Nah..

    Although watching that time-lapse video, none of the other nearby statuettes seem to move, and being that it looks as though they’re at the same level on the same (glass?) top, I would think street vibrations coming up though the floor and display, or through the windows and air would make all of them move at least a little, rather than selectively moving only one. (Depending on what material, if any, might be attached to the bottom(s) of any or all of the statuettes, and possibly reducing the friction between base and top of one one of them.).
    Could we have some fancy sleigh-of-hand manipulation going on here, with the intent to increase traffic to the museum?
    Now You See Me…, anyone?

  22. 22
    Anthony K

    You would have thought by now one would have decided to keep using their Facebook account to haunt their family.

    What’s your status? “Ate manna for breakfast. Again. Aftwards, harp lessons. Again. #FM(after)L”

    I had a friend whose sister tragically committed suicide a few years. About three months after the fact she received a Facebook message from her deceased sister. It had apparently been sent some months before, and spent some time in electronic limbo somehow. Scared the shit out of her. As she’s a wooish sort, I was surprised that she took it in stride as an odd coincidence thanks to technology rather than a message from beyond.

  23. 23
    busterggi

    Cheez but being locked into inhabiting a statue forever would really suck! Makes being an orb that can only be seen by poor camera technique look positively fun in comparison. What ever happened to full-torso apparitions anyway?

  24. 24
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    Who’s to say that the spirit of this individual hasn’t re-entered this statue

    This statement implies that this statue previously contained the “spirit of this individual” as well. Do they just pop in and out, like unwanted houseguests?

  25. 25
    Anthony K

    But threatening to twiddle with your knick-knacks? Pathetic, man. Just pathetic.

    A truly frightening prospect for those of us with anxiety disorders. My girlfriend’s already on notice, so I’ll be able to tell if you try to toss out any of my old, full-of-holes ginch, or my collection of gravel and small river stones that I’m still hoping to one day find a use for in a home improvement project.

  26. 26
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    Also, if I could haunt anything, I’d want it to be a baseball stadium. Cause, y’know, free baseball!

  27. 27
    kreativekaos

    (Also, based on my experience, it wouldn’t seem likely that random street vibrations would so impart such precise looking axial rotation, as there appears to be. I would think the movement would be more random. I vote it’s a set-up.)

  28. 28
    Glen Davidson

    Who’s to say that the spirit of this individual hasn’t re-entered this statue, and that’s what’s causing it to move?

    Oh, I suppose just anyone who understands physics, or even anyone who understands reasonable inference.

    I’m wondering, who’s to say that the spirit of this individual has any kind of existence, let alone one liable to haunt carved rocks?

    OK, your average superstitious dolt. More or less what I thought.

    Glen Davidson

  29. 29
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    You’d think that since the statue appears to rotate most quickly in the couple of hours (guess based on time lapse) of daylight that, well, maybe the evening rush hour had something to do with it? Or is that too obvious?

  30. 30
    sbuczkowski

    @27: It could be the shape of the statue bottom and/or mass distribution that gives it a preferential spin for random energy input. River celts/rattlebacks behave this way.

  31. 31
    rr

    They need to put that statuette on an Ouija board so it can talk to us.

  32. 32
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    Maybe it was the beer god?

  33. 33
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Lord President Borusa is so jealous.

  34. 34
    Menyambal

    All it would take is for one person to be flicking an arm out to give the thing a bit of a twist on the way by. But more likely is an oddly-shaped base on that tall statue and a preferential twist in its rocking motion, in response to vibrations. I’ve seen similar oddities, and certainly wouldn’t be bothered by the other statues near it not moving, nor would I need ghosties.

    Why is it that we have no psychokinetic powers at all when were are alive, but when we are dead, we get all the strength and energy of Uri Geller with a magnet in his tie?

  35. 35
    David Marjanović

    haunting his own action figure

    No fair winning your own thread! *goes into corner* *sulks*

    by the way, what clock starts with the goddamned year FIRST?!

    A Chinese one?

    Depending on what material, if any, might be attached to the bottom(s) of any or all of the statuettes, and possibly reducing the friction between base and top of one one of them.

    Exactly; also on how smooth and even the bottom of the statue and the floor under it are.

  36. 36
    rossthompson

    Who’s to say that the spirit of this individual hasn’t re-entered this statue, and that’s what’s causing it to move?

    If only there were a science-place in town, were we could go to find out if that’s a thing that happens, sometimes. Maybe somewhere that was devoted to the study of ancient artifacts?

    Nah, that’s crazy-talk.

  37. 37
    twas brillig (stevem)

    This was also discussed over at the io9 website. The “best” explanation was “differential friction”. That Tiny differences in the friction (or shape) of the base against the glass surface, driven by small vibrations, make the statue rotate in one direction. When it reaches 180 deg. the friction flattens out and stops it there. The most common “objection” was that watching the video, it continues to move after dark, with no one around. Since the movement is just as the lights go out, I think the road traffic outside might still provide some minute vibrations. It is clear, in the video, that the movement is most when people are walking around the exhibits. And Manchester Museum has a major road just outside. I buy into the differential friction hypothesis based on a funny object I bought at the Boston Science Museum years ago. It is a somewhat flat “stone” (plastic actually, but more about why I used “stone” later), one side curved, the other flat, that can only be spun in one direction; say clockwise. Try to spin it anti-clockwise and it will rock and then spin clockwise. In fact you can start it spinning by just rocking it. I know it is simple physics that explains it, but it has always been a “mystery” to me why it does that. They say it was a toy discovered by some ancient peoples as “tumble stones” found in rivers, that they would then give their kids to play with. And the toy I bought is just a copy of those stones. Even though I don’t know all the physics behind its behavior, “differential friction” sounds pretty plausible. And seems to be a model of why that statue always rotates the same direction to face the wall. (assuming it does always rotate the same direction, I’ve only seen one video) when it rotates.
    Like mentioned earlier, most at io9 suggested putting it on a felt pad or a rubber mat and then see if it STILL rotates. But that would be SCIENCE! How dare we doubt that poor Egyptian spirit who just wants to move its statue around every now and then.
    Hardly relevant but also popular on the comments at io9 is a pic of the guy on the History Channel show “Ancient Aliens” who always says, “I’m not saying aliens, But it was Aliens” or “I don’t know, but it was Aliens”. A beautiful example of when you don’t know just declare it to be your favorite concept with no evidence whatsoever. That is just what this museum rep is doing, by declaring it to be the “spirit” of some long dead Egyptian. “I am not saying it is a spirit, but it is a spirit moving that statue”. Or like the creobots (and theists) are so fond of saying, “prove that it is NOT a spirit, even if your physics works, how do you KNOW that it is NOT a spirit?”

  38. 38
    Denverly

    It’s really a bummer how technology manages to squeeze all of the fun out of a good, old-fashioned poltergeist. I have one in my house that makes all my pictures on the wall crooked whenever I close the door really hard. No idea what else could be causing it.

  39. 39
    Olav

    Katherine Lorraine #10:

    If you pay attention to the clock in the corner – on 2013/04/06 and 2013/04/07 (by the way, what clock starts with the goddamned year FIRST?!)

    It’s the standard notation in China and Japan (and perhaps a few more countries). It is also the only rational date notation format. Europeans and Americans are doing it wrong.

  40. 40
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re Katherine @10:

    If you pay attention to the clock in the corner – on 2013/04/06 and 2013/04/07 (by the way, what clock starts with the goddamned year FIRST?!) …

    Better read more xkcd. Year first is the new ISO8601 standard way to express date. Keep up-to-date!

  41. 41
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re me ^

    erp, ISO8601 is not a “new” standard. Adopted in ’88. Mouseover the xkcd panel to see.

  42. 42
    unclefrogy

    it would not move out here in L A everything is secured some way, often with a kind of soft waxie like glue against earthquakes.
    I heard it this on the radio also might give a slight increase in attendance which ain’t a bad thing but……….
    uncle frogy

  43. 43
    YOB - Ye Olde Blacksmith is a Spocktopus cuddler

    As I my daughter told me a few days ago on an unrelated thing, but seems to be appropriate here:

    “Cheese, Dad. You with your explanations! You take all of the mystery out of it. Where’s the fun in that?!”

  44. 44
  45. 45
    Dick the Damned

    It’s possible that vibrations could cause the movement of this one figurine, while leaving the others unmoved. It would need for this one to have a natural frequency of vibration on its base, roughly equal to that of the vibrations of footfall or traffic, or a multiple thereof. This could then induce the phenomenon of resonance, thereby overcoming frictional restraint.

    Or someone could’ve moved it between camera shots.

    I was at one time responsible for maintaining a Victorian suspension bridge. It was reported that people walking across it sometimes induced significant vibrations – enough to worry them. I calculated that its natural frequency was approximately 2.2 Hz, a fairly common footfall frequency. So we stopped worrying about it. It wasn’t going to do a “Galloping Gertie” on us.

    As for the date format, I’ve been using that format yyyy-mo-da since 1980. It’s commonly used in Canada, at least in official documents. When i moved to the UK in 1985, i continued using that format, mostly to spite them.

  46. 46
    zenlike

    Hopefully this person does not give tours to visitors.

    Don’t worry, this person is not a tour guide, just the fucking curator.

    /small amounts of snark

  47. 47
    Travis

    I saw this story yesterday and I was so disappointed that the museum would let someone make statements like that to the media. I like to think of museums as places where I can normally go to get away from such magical thinking.

  48. 48
    Rey Fox

    Show of hands …

    ME ME MEEE!

  49. 49
    Kagato

    Good reasons to use year-first date notation:

    * It avoids regional confusion. Year-first is always year-month-day. With year-last, if the day is less than the 13th, you can’t tell from the date alone if it’s day-month-year or month-day-year.

    * Year-first dates can be easily numerically sorted, because it is ordered most- to least-significant digit. With other formats, a naive sort results in the same days/months from different years being grouped together.

  50. 50
    Rich Woods

    @Kagato #49:

    I absolutely agree. But then I’m a programmer and I need consistency and rules else I can’t do my job right.

    GIGO.

  51. 51
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    And then it was debunked.

    *grump*

    I was looking forward to expounding my vibration-assisted Foucault Pendulum theory, and then that. Oh, and that it’s also that it’s going counter-clockwise, which is wrong for the NH. ;-)

  52. 52
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    It’s the standard notation in China and Japan

    Let the record state, that as a programmer working with date fields from Japanese computer systems, I have had to deal with Imperial years. I shit you not.

  53. 53
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    that it’s also that it’s? #whenrewritesattack

  54. 54
    gobi's sockpuppet's meatpuppet

    @ sbuczkowski #30 and Steven #37

    But how do you know rattlebacks aren’t caused by ghosts too? Huh? Huh?

  55. 55
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Anthony K — Yep. That’d be a cat for you. Perhaps Bast got bored and decided to mess with their heads…

    =====

    I don’t think they’re taking the ghost “theory” seriously.

    It comes off more as “lets have some fun with this weird phenomenon.” And, hey, why not have some fun with it? It’s not like it’s harming anyone.

  56. 56
    gobi's sockpuppet's meatpuppet

    Just to be clear: a rattlebacks can be referred to as a Celt – don’t try to rotate a Celt, they hate that.

  57. 57
    gobi's sockpuppet's meatpuppet

    @ me

    Try not to stuff up your own joke with bad grammar.

  58. 58
    Numenaster

    PZ said:

    And what about all the dead people who don’t have magic enchanted representations of themselves to play with?

    Or all the OTHER magic enchanted representations filling tons of other museums, which don’t show any evidence of being inhabited? Anyone find it odd that a ka migrated clear to Manchester to take up residence in its statue, and yet none could find their way a mere 200 miles to the Cairo Museum?

  59. 59
    Numenaster

    OK, PZ didn’t say all that. PZ only said the first line, and I can’t for the life of me make blockquote work.

  60. 60
    rrhain

    @10, “by the way, what clock starts with the goddamned year FIRST?!”

    Any clock that wants to let you sort by date. YYYY/MM/DD allows you to do a simple sort of the items by date.

  61. 61
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Alternatively, I suppose that babbling person could just be full of shit.

    Or just trying to increase visitor numbers by cynically exploiting the shit whilst really knowing better?

    Thanks for the debunking link #44 NateHevens. Interesting and good to see the experimental checking. A mate of mine was discussing this as a serious puzzle the other day so will have to let them know.

    As for the best way of writing the date being year-month-day absolutely agreed with that.

  62. 62
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @33. Naked Bunny with a Whip : “Lord President Borusa is so jealous.”

    Classic – great reference.

    Gather he managed to be quite stony faced about it though!

  63. 63
    gravityisjustatheory

    It’s the standard notation in China and Japan (and perhaps a few more countries). It is also the only rational date notation format. Europeans and Americans are doing it wrong.

    I don’t see what’s “irrational” about dd/mm/yyyy.

    It puts the part that changes the most, and which in most every every-day cases people will be most concerned about first.

    I tend to use yyyy/mm/dd when naming files (so sorting by name also sorts by time), and dd/mm/yyyy for everything else.

    (Now, mm/dd/yyyy – that’s irrational).

  64. 64
    Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority)

    And Manchester Museum has a major road just outside.

    Not just a major road, but (what is reputed to be) Europe’s busiest bus route.

  65. 65
    hugo

    it’s generating income, of course the curator’s gonna make up a story so that people will want to come and look at it and pay admission… The timelapse clearly shows that the figure is motionless at night.

  66. 66
    Rey Fox

    Here’s what I’m curious about: Does anyone in the world actually say things like “24 March” out loud?

  67. 67
    LykeX

    Or just trying to increase visitor numbers by cynically exploiting the shit whilst really knowing better?

    That thought occurred to me, too. It’s entirely possible that the curator knows it’s bullshit, but he’s hyping it up in a misguided attempt to attract more visitors.

    On the other hand, we shouldn’t underestimate the number of highly educated idiots out there. They know the field they work in, but the moment they step outside that, they start talking absolute nonsense. That’s what happens when you’ve got lots of training and experience in a certain subject, but no critical thinking skills.

    @44
    That’s a great practical demonstration. Apparently, this is a well-known problem, which may increase the likelihood that the curator is simply bullshitting the public.

  68. 68
    Menyambal

    If you follow the link in comment 44, you’ll see a picture that makes it quite clear that the figure is standing on a plate-glass sheet that is only supported at the edges. You might as well put the frickin’ statue on a trampoline and wonder why it bounces around.

    http://metabunk.org/threads/1838-Debunked-Ancient-Egyptian-Statue-Rotating-by-Itself-in-Manchester-Museum

  69. 69
    John Morales

    [OT]

    Rey, around here (Oz) would typically say the 24th of March, yes.

  70. 70
    Hammer of dog

    it’s generating income, of course the curator’s gonna make up a story so that people will want to come and look at it and pay admission… The timelapse clearly shows that the figure is motionless at night.

    And also that the statue stops rotating once it is facing the wall. This indicates that the front edge of the shelf is slightly lower than the back, thus causing the rotation to stop once the center of gravity is over the lowest point.

  71. 71
    chigau (違う)

    Why did they not leave a light on?

  72. 72
    feralboy12

    Also, maybe I am biased, but how can somebody not know about electric football? It’s so annoying when the one with the little cotton thingy that supposed to be the ball just goes around in circles.

    It’s even worse when your opponent comes in with one of those metal teams from the 1950′s. They’ll push your plastic guys all over the field.
    Yeah, electric football was my first thought when I saw this. My old game (circa 1970) even had a slowly spinning disc on the side for a clock–always spun the same way.
    But the tendency for players to go in circles left the gameplay with something to be desired, and I wound up just playing on the floor with the players. Then I turned 12 and found other things to do with the vibrator.

  73. 73
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @chigau (違う) : “Why did they not leave a light on?”

    Perhaps to reduce power bills, no point having it on if unneeded and help reduced light pollution too.

  74. 74
    methuseus

    @StevoR 73

    I think chigau meant why not leave the light on for the spirit that may inhabit the statue? I read it as tongue firmly in cheek.

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